Revenge tragedy

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Bacchae

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Bacchae is one of the nineteen surviving plays by Euripides, a tragedy written during his final years in exile in Macedonia. It was first performed in 405 BC, a few months after his death.

The play's action is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus. At the beginning of the play, Dionysus appears before the royal palace of Thebes and proclaims that he has come to avenge his rejection by the people of the city. He intends to make all Thebes accept him, beginning with the women, whom he has filled with ecstasy and driven into the mountains. He disappears to join them there, on Mount Kithairon, where (as the Chorus recounts) his ecstatic worshippers, the Bacchae ('bacchants') or Maenads ('ecstatic ones'), dance in his honour. When Pentheus tries to have Dionysos arrested, the prophet Teiresias counsels him to accept the god, but Pentheus sends his guards nonetheless. Dionysos willingly accepts his arrest, only to instigate his horrific revenge, ending with the murder of Pentheus at the hands of the Bacchae.

This version of Bacchae is a translation by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish. In their introduction to the play, they write: 'the play’s continuing relevance, 2500 years after it was written, not to mention its extraordinary ability simultaneously to exhilarate and discomfort anyone who takes it even remotely seriously, reflects not merely Euripides’ mastery but also the bitter continuity in human life of political and religious tyrannies and absurdities of every kind'.

audio Hamlet

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare’s timeless story of revenge, corruption, and murder is considered one of the greatest works in the English language. Prince Hamlet sets out to avenge his beloved father's death at the hand of his uncle Claudius — but Hamlet's spiral into grief and madness will have permanent and immutable consequences for the Kingdom of Denmark. Composed over 400 years ago, Hamlet remains one of the theater’s most studied and performed works, and is presented here in a stunning, sound-rich full-cast recording.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Josh Stamberg as Hamlet Stephen Collins as King Claudius JoBeth Williams as Queen Gertrude Stacy Keach as Ghost Alan Mandell as Polonius Emily Swallow as Ophelia JD Cullum as Laertes Matthew Wolf as Horatio Mark Capri as Ambassador and others Josh Clark as Gravedigger, Voltemand and others Henri Lubatti as Rosencrantz and others Jon Matthews as Guildenstern and others Darren Richardson as Player Queen and others André Sogliuzzo as Reynaldo and others Directed by Martin Jarvis. Recorded at the Invisible Studios, West Hollywood in August, 2011.

Featuring: Mark Capri, Josh Clark, Stephen Collins, JD Cullum, Stacy Keach, Henri Lubatti, Alan Mandell, Jon Matthews, Darren Richardson, Andre Sogliuzzo, Josh Stamberg, Emily Swallow, JoBeth Williams, Matthew Wolf

Hamlet (The First Folio, 1623, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The text presented here is taken from the 1623 First Folio, a collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays collated by John Heminges and Henry Condell (two actors from Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men), where it appears as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. It is the longest play in the Folio, and, although 4% shorter than Q2, it contains 1,914 words not found in Q2. It has been argued that this version is from a copy prepared for performance, possibly by Shakespeare and fellow company members, as the play contains fuller and more systematic stage directions than Q1 and Q2. It has been posited that F is based partly on a copy of Q2 annotated in the playhouse or after performance, and thus is authoritative given its derivation from the authorial ‘foul papers’ theorised to be the basis of Q2. Character names and the placing of key soliloquies are on the whole consistent between Q2 and F, although F lacks Hamlet’s final soliloquy in Q2, ‘How all occasions do inform against me...’, in which he decides once and for all to ‘be bloody’.

Hamlet (The First Quarto, 1603, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

‘The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, printed in quarto version (Q1) in 1603, is often known as the ‘bad’ quarto due to its significant differences from both the Q2 and F texts, rendering it ‘artistically inferior’ in the eyes of some readers. The plot, though essentially the same as in the older versions, is much abridged – Q2 is 79% longer than Q1. Several characters names are reworked: ‘Gertred’, ‘Leartes’, ‘Ofelia’, ‘Rossencraft’, ‘Gilderstone’, ‘Voltemar’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Fortenbrasse’ are all recognisable alternate spellings of characters familiar from Q2, whilst Polonius and his man Reynaldo undergo a sea-change to become ‘Corambis’ and ‘Montano’ respectively. In addition, many iconic monologues, particularly ‘To be or not to be’, will seem odd, both in position and wording, to readers familiar with Q2 and F. Q1 also includes an important scene between Gertred and Horatio, absolving the queen from knowledge of her new husband’s guilt, that does not appear in either of the other versions of the texts. Since its discovery in 1823, many theories have been posited regarding Q1, with some readers suggesting that it is a ‘first draft’ of the play, others that it is a ‘memorial reconstruction’ compiled from players’ memories, and still others that it is a theatrical abridgement, Q2 and F both being too long to have comfortably appeared on the early Jacobean stage as ‘two hours’ traffic’ (though in recent years the duration of early modern performances has been disputed as anywhere between two hours and up to three and a quarter hours long). Q1’s unique stage directions have, since the quarto’s discovery, become standardised: despite only appearing in Q1, stage business such as Ophelia’s mad lute-playing and Hamlet and Laertes jumping into the grave have become iconic moments in the play.

Hamlet (The Second Quarto, 1604-05, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The second quarto (Q2), the text presented here, was printed in 1604 as The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, Prince of Denmarke. Despite being nicknamed the ‘second’ quarto, scholars have argued that it is probable that Q2 actually pre-dates Q1, as it is conjectured to be based on Shakespeare’s manuscript copy, his ‘foul papers’. The supposed proximity of Q2 to the authorial hand has therefore led this text frequently to be chosen as the authoritative version of Hamlet. As its titlepage makes no mention of performance (unlike Q1), it has been argued that this Hamlet was a version crafted by Shakespeare’s hand before the cuts required by performance were put into place: a play ‘for the closet, not for the stage’. At 28,628 words, ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’, it is the longest extant play in the canon. Although it resembles the Folio text, both contain a number of unique lines. Even so, this is the version of Hamlet most familiar to readers in terms of language and scene structure, particularly in relation to iconic monologues such as ‘To be or not to be’.

The Spanish Tragedy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Spanish Tragedy can be considered the first great classic from the Elizabethan period of playwriting; for seventy years the story of Hieronimo’s revenge was the most quoted play in English. The play is innovative in its use of blank verse and the deadly play-within-a-play device, and sophisticated in its discussion of the morality of revenge and justice.

The play is introduced by the spirit of Revenge, who promises to show the ghost of Don Andrea his enemies being murdered. Andrea was killed by the heir of Portugal, Balthazar, who was then captured and brought as a prisoner to Spain. Andrea’s lover Bel-Imperia decides that she will revenge Andrea by killing Balthazar, who woos her. She now favours Horatio – the young man who captured Balthazar in battle – but Bel-Imperia’s brother and Balthazar kill Horatio, and hang his corpse in an arbour. It is there that Horatio’s father Hieronimo discovers him, and embarks upon one of the bloodiest and most famous revenge plots in early modern drama.

The Spanish Tragedy was staged at the Rose playhouse from 1592.

Titus Andronicus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dismemberment, rape, cannibalism and murder make Titus Andronicus Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. The boundless grief and savage justice of Titus explores the expression of tragic passion, the Senecan tradition, Roman history and government, the body and structures of interpretation.

This text is based on the 1594 First Quarto, with corrections from the 1600 Second Quarto and the addition of III.ii from the 1623 First Folio. It has been suggested that the first act shows signs of the involvement of George Peele, whose work Shakespeare may have revised.

Titus returns to Rome from war against the Goths, in which two of his sons have died. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as her servant and lover Aaron the Moor. Titus gives Alarbus up for sacrifice. Titus suggests Saturninus for emperor. Saturninus offers to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia, but her fiancé Bassianus (Saturninus’ brother) claims her. There is a struggle, and Titus kills one of his sons for assisting Bassianus. Saturninus marries Tamora instead, who privately promises to avenge her son.

Demetrius and Chiron fight over Lavinia; Aaron interrupts them and advises them on how they may rape Lavinia during the hunt the next day. Aaron and Tamora conspire to bring Lavinia and Bassianus to a pit, where Bassianus is killed by Chiron and Demetrius. Lavinia begs Tamora for mercy, but is dragged away to be raped by her sons. Aaron and Tamora frame Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus for Bassianus’ murder. They are condemned to death; Titus’ other son Lucius is banished.

Titus’ brother Marcus discovers Lavinia with her tongue cut out and her hands cut off. Aaron brings word that if Titus cuts off his hand his sons will be spared; Titus does so but his sons are executed anyway. Lavinia silently explains who raped her. Aaron flees the city with his son, the black baby that Tamora has given birth to. He meets the army of the Goths outside Rome, who are led by the banished Lucius.

Tamora visits Titus disguised as the spirit of Revenge, with her sons as Rape and Murder. Titus kills her sons and serves them to Tamora baked in a pie. Titus kills Tamora; Saturninus kills Titus; Lucius kills Saturninus and is elected emperor.

A popular genre of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, in which the main character seeks revenge on the murderer of a relative or friend. The action was often precipitated by a ghost returning to a descendant or friend, who promises to exact retribution. The genre usually combined violent and sensational action with intense meditations on the morality of revenge. The first Elizabethan revenge tragedy was Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1585–89), in which Hieronimo seeks revenge for his son’s murder. Shakespeare wrote two, the grotesquely violent Titus Andronicus (1592) and Hamlet (1600), the undoubted masterpiece of the genre. Other examples include George Chapman’s Bussy d’Ambois (1604), the anonymous The Revenger’s Tragedy (1607), Cyril Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy (1611), John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1619), Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling (1622), John Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge (1599), and James Shirley’s The Traitor (1631).

from Jonathan Law, ed., The Methuen Drama Dicitionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).